As technology continues to develop at a fantastic rate, more and more services are moving online. While the 24/7 availability of websites means you can fill in that all-important form at a time that suits you, it can be tricky to keep up with all the new developments. We all know three year olds who can master gadgets in seconds but, it would appear to be somewhat more difficult for those of us who are attempting to adopt the new technology later in life. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time to learn new things and, in the case of online applications and forms, caution is the best approach to take.
Just as efficiency and convenience are major advantages of the online system, the potential for cloning websites to extract information from unsuspecting browsers is a major downfall. Unfortunately, there will always be someone looking for an opportunity to obtain money fraudulently and we are all at risk. Plenty of coverage has been given to phishing emails recently and most web users know never to click links in unsolicited emails or enter personal information onto websites they are not completely comfortable with, but did you know that cloned government websites and related scams are also worryingly common?
Now that many government services are available online; passport applications, driving tests, EHIC cards, ESTAs and other travel-related visas to name but a few; would-be scammers have more opportunity than ever to obtain a wealth of useful personal information. However, it’s not simply a case of clicking a link from an email, there are numerous legitimate websites in operation who make their money charging for free government services.
If you intend to avail of an online government service, chances are you will type relevant search terms into a search engine. Once you have entered “UK passport application”, “ESTA application form” or similar, you will be presented with pages of relevant results. When selecting the service you wish to use, always make sure you are clicking through to the official government website. The official website for the service can be identified by the inclusion of .gov.uk in the website address. The search results may include dozens of official-sounding websites, but closer inspection will soon reveal that they are operated by third parties.
One of the most common government-related scams targets those renewing their passport. When an online search is carried out for UK passport renewal or a similar term, the user receives links to webpages offering help with passport renewal. These websites will normally appear to be very useful and helpful at first, offering assistance with completing passport forms alongside online or telephone help. All sounds good? It does until you realise that you’ll be charged £99 or so for assistance which is available free of charge from the Passport Office. That’s on top of the passport fee, which isn’t particularly cheap at £72.50.
Of course, the scammers are always on the lookout for new ways to make a quick buck or two and have now expanded to other services. The EHIC card offers free health care in EU countries and is available completely free of charge from the official website. Numerous “helpful” websites have cropped up, offering to help you complete and submit your application for a fee of at least £20. It’s not just about the fee either; remember that, as well as being out of pocket unnecessarily, you’re passing your personal details to a business or individual who may not be entirely scrupulous.
Fancy paying double the actual fee for your driving test? Don’t worry, there are plenty of websites willing to part you from your cash for that too…
While some people may be willing to pay for the services offered by these websites and we’re certain that at least some of the websites will be genuine, it is worrying how easily fraudsters can use services like these to build a database of personal information. When you are next searching for a government service’s online portal, consider how much damage could potentially be done by blindly clicking on the first result.
Staying safe while applying online
- Don’t automatically assume the first result is the genuine service; it may be an unofficial website whose owners have paid to promote themselves.
- Always look for .gov.uk in the website address of government services.
- If you are at all unsure about the authenticity of a website, begin your search again by visiting www.gov.uk and searching for the service you wish to access.
- If you are not confident using online applications and would prefer to use the traditional paper version, remember most of the forms are also available from the Post Office.
Whilst we can’t fully protect you from scammers, we can make you aware of of the latest tricks that these unscrupulous people are pulling. We can however protect your home, car, caravan or motorhome with quality insurance that gives you peace of mind (at a great price too!). Call our team on 01480 402460 to see how we can help you.